Optimistic Living

Optomistic Living

Philippians 4:6-7
by Bob Burridge ©2024

Living in this world, we regularly face things that trouble us.
Sin’s at the root of all the adversities we struggle with. When Adam sinned in Eden, we all became infected with death, both physical and spiritual. Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned-”

God first summarized the corruption that sin would bring, when he pronounced the curses. God told Eve there would be a struggle between her offspring and Satan. Then God said to her in Genesis 3:16 … “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

Then God said to Adam in Genesis 3:17-19, “… cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

These far reaching effects of sin, both in our world and in our hearts, is why we constantly struggle against temptations and become morally confused. There’s crime in our society. Even believers sometimes find it easy to justify breaking the law, or lying in circumstances they think are minor or unimportant. Justice is often perverted into injustice, and immorality becomes the ethic of fallen societies. We find it hard to cope with natural calamities (such as disasters, disease, and death itself).

God never promised that believers can escape these things in this life. He’s given us a way of rising above the agony and discouragement of these things. Those who have a negative outlook are often called pessimists. Those who have a positive outlook are usually called optimists. This study is just an overview to help us along to more optimistic living.

There are lots of standard jokes, stories, and classic sayings about the two ways of looking at things. I once did a quick search of the internet about optimism and pessimism using the Google search engine. In less than half of a second it returned 21,900 web sites.

The most posted example was the old poem written by McLandburgh Wilson (with variations), “Between the optimist and the pessimist, the difference is droll. The optimist sees the doughnut; the pessimist the hole!” There were 1,820 web sites with either that whole quote or variations of it, including a few Jewish humor sites where they substituted a bagel for the doughnut. There were 1,721 web sites telling the story of the optimist boy who was given a pile of manure instead of presents. He wasn’t upset. He started excitedly searching expecting there must be a new horse.

There’s that old tired saying about seeing the glass either half empty or half full appeared 4,390 times. There was an interesting update of that one for our computer age, “An optimist would say the hard drive is half full. A pessimist would say the hard drive is half empty. A true computer geek would upgrade regardless.”

These are good for pointing out what we see in people, and they’re good for humor, but none of them really get to the heart of the issue.

There is an optimism the world invents, which is a counterfeit of the biblical version. It’s a “head in the sand” optimism that tries to ignore negative things. It refuses to face problems or admit to things not going well. It’s nothing less than lying to self, or at least a denying of the truth to one’s self.

There is a false optimism that pretends to be Christian, but is not. It says that it expects good by faith. But by faith they mean wishful thinking. They don’t mean finding encouragement according to what God has actually said. They believe something to be so, simply because they believe it is so. Faith becomes simply a hope – rather than a gift of God by grace though the work of the Savior.

Christian optimism should not be unrealistic or trying to overlook unwelcome truth.

True Christian optimism begins by seeing things with a God-centered perspective Everything fits in with the bigger picture, as God directs his universe. The Westminster Shorter Catechism question 7 says, “The decrees of God are his eternal purpose according to the counsel of his will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath fore-ordained whatsoever comes to pass.”

There are some key parts in that answer:
1. God has an eternal purpose
2. His eternal purpose is according to what he desires, his will
3. He directs all things, without exception, for his own glory

That means that sin, disappointments, failures, defeats, crime, persecutions, and eternal judgments all fit together into the large plan of God and all promote his glory.

Therefore, as we try to understand things around us, things we like and things we dislike, we need to keep this main principle in mind: God’s sovereign power and infallible decrees move all things toward his own glory.

God in his word clearly explains his sovereignty over all things.
This is a teaching found in every section of the Bible. For example, Psalm 135:6 “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, In heaven and on earth, in the seas, and all deeps.” – Nahum 1:3 says the LORD’s way “is in whirlwind and storm” – In Matthew 10:29-30 Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” – Then in Revelation 4:11 it says, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

If we knew nothing more than this, we would still have the most important encouragement. Since God is absolutely in control of all things there is no reason for discouragement.

Of course we still sometimes get discouraged. But in Christ we know it doesn’t have to be that way. We don’t have to hide our heads in the sand and pretend nothing bad will happen to us. And we don’t have to fool ourselves with idle wishful thinking. God rules over all things and moves them toward a glorious end.

Nothing is left to chance in God’s universe. Calamities don’t blindly stumble our way. They’re part of something bigger than what’s on our schedule. God never has to change his eternal plan, though he reveals it in stages to us. There is no enemy that can force God’s hand, or derail his plans.

Even the wicked, when they strike out against God are really serving him though ignorantly. The unbelieving hands that nailed Jesus to a cross for execution, meant to silence him. Instead they became the tools in God’s hand that finished the work of Salvation. Peter explained in Acts 2:23, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” God didn’t excuse the sin. But he turned around the diabolical scheme. Though we might not appreciate its important work, even hard times have a good purpose. Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

A few examples from the Bible can help us apply this important principle.
In the time of Habakkuk there were serious threats against God’s people. The prophet had become discouraged, so he asked God to explain. In chapter 1 he prays for understanding why there was such violence. He waited for God to explain.

God gave a different kind of answer than he expected. In 2:4 He characterized the proud, “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.” God pointed him to his duty instead of his obsession with the problem. The redeemed are to live by trusting what God had made known. What God has not revealed should not be our concern.

This brings us back to that verse we quote so much: Deuteronomy 29:29 “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work hard to find out all than can be known.
But it does mean that God’s reasons behind things should not be guessed at beyond what he says.

As children, there are many things we should leave up to our Father. When we worry about things we can never control or explain, we show a mistrust in our Father. We trouble ourselves unnecessarily with unfounded anxiety about God’s secret work, often to the neglect of our own revealed duties.

King David also became discouraged by the seeming success of the heathen. In Psalm 2:1-3 he asked why the heathen nations get away with being so bold and wicked? “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’ ”

Then the Psalm reminds us who is in charge in verses 4-6, “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, ‘As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.’ ”

It’s a superficial delusion to see success in wickedness. The discouraged heart doesn’t look far enough.

Part of David’s life was spent being hunted by armies of kings trying to kill him. But through it all he remembered that the kings who tried to kill him were never beyond the control of God. He wrote the so often repeated words of Psalm 23:4, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Joseph knew God’s sovereign assurances too: When his brothers conspired to kill him and sell him into slavery Joseph later said in Genesis 45:7-8, “And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.” Then in Genesis 50:20 he said, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

So God uses even the sins and selfish attitudes of His creatures to accomplish his decrees. This doesn’t excuse the sin. It’s employed to accomplish God’s wonders.

Paul was a very optimistic prisoner! From his captivity in Rome he wrote the letter to the Philippian Church. In Philippians 4 his own words are a clear lesson, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

In verses 11-13 he adds, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Christian optimism responds to negative things with confidence, peace, and resolve.
We leave the success to God, and accept the things that are beyond our own responsibility. In its place we have a sense of duty and promise. Noah was not a pessimist because he started to make an ark long before there was a flood. He expected a calamity. But knew it was not his responsibility to stop the flood. God called him to do his work of making an ark.

We need to remember this when we go about our duties too. When we explain the gospel to others or stand up for God’s truth and law. Some may not believe. Some may ridicule us or think we are foolish. Some may even persecute us. Our duty is to represent Christ and God’s truth and promises. It’s God’s work to change the hearts.

In whatever circumstances that come along we’re to rest joyfully and securely in the hand of God who uses all things for good. We might loose our jobs, see people we don’t respect elected to offices, we might get sick or hurt by a loved one, our houses may get damaged by a storm, and our cars need repairs. Through it all we need to remember that the Sovereign hand of our Loving Heavenly Lord should give us a positive attitude as we engage in our duties and appreciate his promises and blessings.

Our mindset is the key: seeing things with a God-centered perspective Everything fits in with the bigger picture as God directs his universe. His sovereign power and infallible decrees move all things toward his own glory.

This brings us back to a familiar verse. Instead of fixating on the problems or the pain, Philippians 4:8 reminds us, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

The right cosmic perspective is to see all things as the unfolding of God’s wonderful plan. Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Note: Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.